Northwest Eye Center and Vision Health International
Changing Lives on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana
Dr. Melinda and Paul O’Rourke and Alex Mosley put in a long but immensely gratifying week (September 7-15, 2019) at the Flathead Indian Reservation and at the Salish Kootenai College campus in Pablo, Montana as members of a team of 20 or so volunteers from Vision Health International.
We’re very pleased to report the week made a real and lasting impact on the lives of many as the team performed 1,143 comprehensive eye exams for both adults and kids. Close to 60% of that total experienced significant vision correction, the vast majority of those patients receiving custom prescription eyeglasses. We’d like to recognize the Essilor Vision Foundation’s Changing Life Through Lenses program that helps make this very important component of VHI’s mission—bringing high quality eye care to underserved communities around the world—possible.
While it’s a very special feeling to know the work VHI performs improves, if not restores vision for a good number of deserving people—family economics are put back on track, not to mention that navigating life’s sometimes rugged day-to-day schedule is made possible again with better vision—one cannot help but feel a heightened sense of gratification when that effort involves kids. Especially when that knowing smile and twinkle in the eye appears on their young faces when the realization dawns they’re seeing their world clearly, perhaps for the first time.
The VHI team examined pre-school, elementary, middle and upper school students, along with a contingent of 160 young kids from local Head Start programs. In speaking with a principal from one of the schools, we learned that over 70% of the student population at his school lives below national poverty levels. Simply stated the great majority of the patients VHI served this past week could not afford basic vision health care, not to mention the expense associated with a new pair of prescription eyeglasses. That so many patients, both adults and kids, learned about and anxiously presented themselves at VHI’s 5-day clinic in Montana, only reaffirms what VHI suspected all along: the lack of eye care in this community needs to be addressed, sooner rather than later.
It’s safe to predict that VHI will seriously consider returning to Montana next year to continue what we began this past week. There’s still a great deal of work to do.
Check out our pictures from our trip to the Flathead American Indian Reservation in Missoula, MT.